In my last blog post, I discussed the challenge of trying to plan perfection, which, by its-nature is in conflict with the requirements of a continuous-flow process. Some of this disconnect is driven by the very passion for language that is pervasive in our industry. I remember a conversation I had with Don DePalma of CSA in the mid-90’s sharing my frustration about the lack of common quality standards and the inconsistent if not capricious nature of reviewer feedback.
I wish I could report better progress since then. Certainly we have made steps in terms of glossary automation, consistent use of style guides, and many other great tools professional linguists can use. Yet at the end of the day, when a client reviewer has strong preferences, this becomes the de facto standard of “right” and anything else is “wrong” or “bad.”
At a recent Localization World presentation, a manufacturing company shared their methodology of QA guidelines provided to reviewers that clearly define categories and severity of errors. Combined with a consistent scoring methodology, this moved the review process from the purely subjective into something that looks to be reasonable, repeatable, and scalable. But this global company is able to enforce these standards and processes on their employees around the world. The reality is that this company and this methodology represent a small slice of the global demand for translation.
We often ask clients, “Please connect us with your reviewers so we can set guidelines and establish clear expectations.” We are often told that reviewers are not available, or at least none that will be consistent from release to release. Yet the feedback comes, changing approved glossary terms, not following the style guide, or making inconsistent, preferential changes and varying from reviewer to reviewer. Often changes are made because the reviewer does not like or is “correcting” the source. Aside from the natural frustration, this affects the translation memory so the client loses quality, consistency and cost benefits. Everyone loses.
Okay, it’s a bit of a whine. This is a service business and we our proud to take care of our customers – especially in difficult circumstances. The reason for my rant is that we have a business to run, and these types of changes affect the bottom line. Sure, we can charge more – then invariably someone points out that a different company is far less expensive. This is the heart of the matter: in a business where the output is variable and without a clear standard of measure, customers primarily compare by price. We are the victims of our own inability to clearly define and articulate language quality standards and gain broad acceptance. As a proxy, customers rely on the brand of the translation company, or sometimes on trusted personal relationships, to provide the confidence needed to engage services. Or they use translation tests, a subject for a few words another time.
For example, we know that the minimum standard of competence for an accountant is to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the US or a Chartered Accountant in the UK. Attorneys must become members of their bar association. This is not to say there are not valuable translator associations. Membership certainly implies that the translator regards his or her profession with commitment and has competence but there are usually no or little barriers to entry. However, with rare exception, efforts to create standards neglect perhaps the most critical component of all: specialization. You wouldn’t knowingly see a podiatrist about a problem with your eyes or ask a patent attorney to defend your traffic violation. Yet many are willing to select a translator that has never encountered the term “flying buttress” or “equity derivative” and wonder why their in-country reviewer complains about the translation.
The beauty and complexity of translation is that it is ultimately a human endeavor. Humans are both variable and imperfect. Choosing the right humans to translate for you is perhaps the most important variable to nail down. Beyond that, we’ve established processes (two-step translation+editing) that are reinforced by workflow automation to reduce the instances of “bad” translation getting to the customer. We follow industry-standard best practices. We developed a statistically-driven QA methodology to constantly evaluate practitioners to keep everyone performing at peak levels. Our collective challenge is to educate our customers on the importance of specialization and how to measure quality in non-subjective terms. This will help us to improve highly variable project margins and, more importantly, continually elevate the level and consistency of the service we deliver. Everyone wins.
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They say prior preparation prevents poor performance. This especially applies to translation: the process and the outcome can be much improved if the content was prepared with translation in mind. Selecting the right translation company is an important ingredient. Taking a few extra steps to ensure the source copy is translation-ready is equally important. A well-prepared source text will not only reduce costs by making it easier to translate, it will enable consistency in both the tone and message.
Step #1: Basic Proofreading
Basic does not mean quick and easy; basic means that this is the most fundamental, non-negotiable step. Review the source text for typographical errors and mistakes in grammar, style, and spelling. Beyond that, make sure the sentences are clear and concise and in consistent voice, tense, and gender. You have to start off with grammatically correct content to get an accurate translation.
Step #2: Your Voice, Your Style
Communicating in a consistent manner will help you build meaningful relationships with your customers. The fact of the matter is once you’ve engaged an audience, there are certain expectations in the way you communicate that make it a genuine experience. An inconsistent voice is at best hard to read and at worst does not inspire loyalty. Collect the essence of your company’s tone, messages, and vocabulary in a translation style guide – just like you would prepare for an ad agency. It is important to brief your translation provider with this information when you commission the translation.
Establish a consistent format, develop key messages, and create a glossary of frequently used terms. It can really pay off. You will benefit from a smooth, seamless, and cost-effective translation process.
Step #3: Simple is Good
Unnecessarily complex language, such as jargon and idiomatic expressions, may get lost in translation. Sports analogies don’t translate, for example. Write in short, declarative sentences in the active voice. Sentences with multiple subjects or meandering prose may be extremely time-consuming or even impossible for the translator to accurately recreate. This ultimately effects the turnaround time and price of the translation.
It goes without saying that working with a trusted and respected translation provider is an essential element for an effective translation process. These simple upfront steps will save you a lot of headaches and enable a smooth translation project.